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After Riot in Australia's Manus Facility, US Tells ICP Wants PNG to Probe

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 21 -- Australia's already controversial policy of diverting asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea was further thrust in the spotlight this week amid a riot and the killing of an Iranian asylum seeker identified as Reza Barati in Australia's "facility" on Manus Island, PNG.

  The UK-based private military contractor G4S is in charge of security in the facility; its personnel were reportedly involved in the killing. Having not seen any comment from the US government, Inner City Press on February 21 asked State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf about it.

  Harf said "We hope that the Papua New Guinea authorities will undertake a full investigation of the incident." Australia has now said it will investigate G4S. But what about the underlying policy? Inner City Press has asked the UN Secretariat too, and they have been strikingly silent.

  While Australia co-sponsors the Syria "humanitarian resolution" in the UN Security Council, it's worth noting that beyond its draconian immigration policies, Australia is already on record that it will NOT support the Sri Lanka resolution the US -- despite lobbying -- UK, India and others are working on for the UN Human Rights Council in March. Whither Australia?

Here's from the US State Department's February 21 transcript, also on the Democratic Republic of the Congo on which we hope to have more:

MODERATOR: Up next, Marie, we have Matthew Russell Lee from Inner City Press. Operator, can you please open Matthewís line? And Matthew, go ahead.

Inner City Press: Thanks a lot... There were these riots Ė Australia doesnít let people that are seeking asylum land, and has been sending them to Papua New Guinea, and there was a riot and an Iranian asylum seeker was killed. And a lot of people have commented on it, but I wonder, is the U.S., either about this one incident or generally about Australiaís policy of not allowing asylum seekers to land and then sort of outsourcing to Papua New Guinea Ė and I thought I saw that Ambassador Russel was over there, but I wondered if you had anything on this.

MS. HARF: I did have something on this on Wednesday. Let me see if I have something here. Just give me one second. Again, Iím kind of putting a book together in a very strange way. Yes, I did see this. This Ė okay, here, I do have something. So we are aware of reports at the Manus Island Immigration Detention Center in Papua New Guinea. This is what youíre referring to, right?

Inner City Press: Yes, it is.

MS. HARF: We hope that the Papua New Guinea authorities will undertake a full investigation of the incident. I think for probably more details on that, the Australian and Papua New Guinea governments have more of the details, and Iíd refer you there. And we think these are matters best addressed by the governments of these countries. But in general, we do encourage all countries to work with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to find durable solutions for refugees and asylum seekers and to uphold their obligations under a couple conventions Ė the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Inner City Press: Okay, thatís great. And if you donít mind, just one more quick Ė in DRC, there was a crackdown on this opposition leader Vital Kamerhe in Bukavu. There was, like, shooting at his supporters. Iím thinking of Russ Feingold, I donít know if thatís in your book, your spread out book over there, if you --

MS. HARF: My sort of bobbled together book here in Jerusalem. Itís not. Iím sorry. I havenít seen that, but let me see if I can get you something on that.

Inner City Press: Okay, thanks.

MS. HARF: Thank you so much.

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